Mall of America Embraces Online Shopping

Mall of America Embraces Online Shopping

Can e-commerce save shopping centers? MOA leads the way with a new online shopping platform designed to bridge discovery and convenience.

The mall that elevated experiential shopping to mega proportions is now trying find its relevance to online shopping. Mall of America recently launched its own e-commerce platform where consumers can shop 70 of its stores with one unified checkout cart and same-day pickup at the mall.

“We want to make shopping as easy as possible,” said Grant Buntje, MOA’s vice president of marketing. “Our model is based on convenience.”

That includes a delivery option for those within 15 miles of the Bloomington, Minn. mall and a package pickup spot near an entrance, making it possible to grab and go without having to traverse the 5.6 million-square-foot building. It’s the opposite of the discovery and entertainment model those in the shopping center business have been preaching for decades, even as they steadily lost ground to e-commerce, which is expected to hit $1 trillion in U.S. sales in 2022, according to Statista. The pandemic dramatically accelerated adoption of online shopping—now 80 percent of U.S. consumers say they shop online. And throughout the pandemic, consumers have gotten used to conveniences like curbside pickup and delivery.

Experience + Convenience

Buntje, a former brand director with creative agency Knock Inc. who also worked for the Minnesota Retailers Association, has been thinking about how to meld experience and convenience—two retail goals seemingly at odds—since 2019, when MOA hired him to “build a roadmap for making the mall shoppable online.” MOA partnered with Adeptmind, an AI tech company that specializes in building customized e-commerce experiences for brick and mortar retailers. According to Anne Mezzenga, co-founder of Minneapolis-based retail lab Third Haus and the Omni Talk retail blog and podcast, as many as 65 malls in the U.S. and Canada are currently working with Adeptmind with more coming online next year.

“This is critical to the survival of mall retailers,” Mezzenga said. “It enables digital discovery and shopping experience that meets the needs of today and tomorrow’s consumers, and most important for the mall owner, these sales, while happening online, are being attributed to the store location in the mall.”

When a consumer browses L.L. Bean at mallofamerica.com, they are actually shopping L.L. Bean’s Mall of America store inventory. Purchases made online come directly off the store’s sales floor and count as in-store sales for that location, rather than an online sale for the company. “We are basically observing and scanning inventory in real time,” Buntje said of the MOA e-commerce platform. The majority of the mall’s participating retailers are large national companies like Macy’s, Gap, and Lululemon, but Buntje said the mall is committed to making e-commerce work for its smaller local tenants as well.

Mezzenga tried the service back in the fall, when MOA’s e-commerce soft launched without fanfare. She ordered a shirt and blazer from her Linden Hills office and made a video of the shopping bag arriving within hours. “It solves for the—’I need this blazer today’—without having to step foot in the mall of run circles around it.”

But that’s not enough of a need state to sustain a retail behemoth, said Chad Hetherington, co-founder and CEO of The Stable, a Minneapolis-based commerce agency that helps brands place their products across retail channels from store shelf to e-commerce and social.

Mall of America Nickelodeon Universe
Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America

“I think in theory it’s a really smart idea. Giving customers the choice of how they want to shop (physically or digitally), and enabling a frictionless experience for checkout via pickup and delivery,” Hetherington said. “That said, MOA is known as a destination for physical retail, given its rich history and unique retail concepts and experiences. The fact that 40 percent of MOA visitors are tourists, I think it will take them some time to get this to real scale. Will it work? Yes. But how well? We will have to wait and see.”

For now, MOA is closely tracking online orders to learn what customers want. The Mall of America just started hyping the service this month—“Skip the line. Buy online,” its website beckons—and is currently offering 15 percent off online orders along with free local delivery. “We’re seeing a good mix of pickup orders and delivery,” Buntje said. “We’re learning a lot about how guests shop online versus in person and thinking about ways to grow store sales.”

Buntje believes that ability to shop dozens of retailers in one place, with one checkout cart, is the high-tech equivalent of “discovery” that happens when strolling through a mall.  Said Buntje, “We’re thinking about the power of shopping versus buying.”